Monday, April 17, 2017

Smashin' Passion

A college professor, writing at The American Interest, muses on some of the problems going on in modern campus political life. Specifically, the problem of groups of students shouting down campus speakers they don't like and in some cases engaging in behavior that actually endangers people.

The professor, Flagg Taylor of Skidmore College, works his thoughts through last month's riot at Middlebury College which put one professor in the hospital so the students wouldn't have to listen to the controversial Charles Murray. He recounts a discussion of the incident between two writers, one of whom says he has trouble because he does "want to salute the passion of the students" even though the Murray talk ended in violence. The other writer counters that it's too bad that the students had never learned "any virtue carried to an excess becomes a vice."

And there, Taylor says, is the problem. Students, whose forebrains are still developing and who sometimes are shaky on consequences as a result, might indeed develop passion and engagement but lack the wisdom to know how, when or how much to deploy them in any given situation. It's possible to be passionate about something awful, as Reinhard Heydrich and Mohammed Atta demonstrated quite clearly. Student activists are nothing like those evil men, but their inability to govern their passions will one day lead to a confrontation of some kind in which someone will be seriously hurt or even killed.

There's a phrase I've heard before that says one goal of a person seeking enlightenment is to learn how to keep his or her passion "within due bounds," or to "circumscribe" them. Passion, engagement and commission are valuable tools in achieving goals or making needed changes in society and the world. The idea behind an education, of course, is cultivating the mind to be able to best use these tools. Anything else is a tantrum.

And the problem when full-sized people throw tantrums is that no one thought that child-proofing their environments was necessary and something's going to get broken.

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